Damon Young: "The self is everywhere, but also threatened with obsolescence by the rise of AI"

November 29, 2023

Firstly, I would love to hear more about you and your work. How did you first come to film and media, and French? What does your research or work currently focus on? 

In Australia, where I grew up, I studied philosophy, English literature, theater studies, cultural studies (which is big there), but I was always involved in the arts—doing theater productions, and hen I did a degree in film-making as well. But I was also really interested in humanities-based academic research—reading and writing, thinking critically in a critical-theory way, and I was taking courses about radical theory that were exciting me intellectually. So film and media studies represented the meeting of my interest in the arts and my interest in theory. When I came to the U.S. to do my PhD, that field was really well established here, and so I ended up specializing in that, but I’ve always been interested in the broader humanities, and how film and media related to questions also broached in the larger humanities. 

In my dissertation research, I was writing about sexuality, and French cinema was really important. I happened to speak French because I had been an exchange student there, and so I ended up writing a dissertation in which French cinema was a big focus. A lot of the theory I was using happened to be from France as well—post-structuralist theory, continental philosophy, psychoanalytic theory. I ended up moving more into French Studies through my dissertation research, almost accidentally. 

My earlier projects were mostly about film, but currently I’m writing a book called Century of the Selfie, which is about how networked media, including the selfie, shape the ideology and experience of the self. In our current media environments, we have to see ourselves all the time, we put ourselves online all the time, we’re always marketing ourselves, there’s a big discourse on self-care. It also seems like the self is in crisis, which might be its existential condition but is particularly inflected in the age of digital capitalism—online spaces are full of stories of all kinds of anxiety-related, ego-related issues. The self is everywhere, but also threatened with obsolescence by the rise of AI, and other ways in which the algorithm makes the self irrelevant in some sense. So I’m interested in the self in these networked spaces, and also what kind of imaginary relations the self has on the network. I’m taking some of these older questions about subjectivity, identity, relationality—from earlier moments of humanist thought—and I’m bringing them to the networked era to see what happens. It’s been really fun to write this book, and do this research. It involves watching a lot of YouTube videos [laughs]. I have a chapter on vlogs, for example—these kind of meaningless vlogs, where people relate absolutely nothing for hours on end. I call this the “phatic” self.

Berkeley Arts & Humanities